SAN ANTONIO – As the city and the police union plan on beginning a new collective bargaining process this year, a group that seeks to reform the San Antonio Police Department said they submitted their petition to leave that decision up to voters on Friday.
Fix SAPD announced that their petition to repeal Chapter 174 — which allows for police officers to participate in collective bargaining for a contract — on the next ballot in May. The petition received the 20,000 signatures necessary to give voters the chance to opt out of the law that makes collective bargaining possible for first responders in San Antonio.
For the measure to make the May ballot, the 20,000 signatures must be certified by the city clerk’s office within 20 days.
“Fix SAPD is about getting rid of the barriers that shield bad police officers and protect them from the consequences of their misconduct,” Ojiyoma Martin, founder of Fix SAPD, said in a news release. “This is about accountability for the police, not getting rid of them.”
Martin said the petition only proposes repealing the act for police, it would remain in effect for firefighters.
But in a recent appearance with the new president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, McManus appeared to oppose Fix SAPD’s efforts.
“Let me answer it this way, I’m not opposed to collective bargaining. I think that the issues that we have can be straightened out at the negotiating table,” McManus said as he pledged to work with SAPOA President-elect John ‘Danny’ Diaz on common goals.
The group is also working on getting a measure to opt out of Chapter 143 on the ballot, but that would require 80,000 signatures.
“As the city enters negotiations with the San Antonio Police Officers Association for the next contract, the organization believes repealing these laws on a local level is a key step in creating police accountability in San Antonio,” the group said in a news release.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sep. 30, 2021, but it also has an eight-year evergreen clause that would keep it in effect until Sep. 30, 2029, if a new agreement is not reached.
The City Clerk’s 20th business day will occur on Feb. 8. If the signatures are validated, then the item will be on the Feb. 11 City Council Agenda, where they are required approve placing the proposal on the ballot.
Some of the protections for officers accused of misconduct in the current police collective bargaining agreement include:
Delayed interviews of accused officers
When an officer is accused of alleged wrongdoing that is not a criminal matter, Internal Affairs must give the accused officer 48-hours notice before any interview or interrogation takes place. In criminal matters, the criminal investigation starts right away — like other criminal cases — and Internal Affairs conducts a separate investigation.
Accused officers review evidence before speaking to investigators
During that 48-hour window, before they speak to investigators, officers are allowed to review all of the evidence in the investigation. This includes the complaint and other written statements, GPS readouts, video recordings, audio recordings and any other information gathered in the administrative investigation.
Brief statute of limitations
Police administrators have six months to administer any discipline against an accused officer. In criminal cases, the clock starts when the department becomes aware of the charge. In civil matters, administrators can only act within 180 days of when the incident took place.
The clause is problematic in some cases because departments may not be aware of the allegations until the statute of limitations expires.
Discipline history is not always considered
When presenting their case to arbitrators, police administrators are not allowed to introduce any evidence of acts that have occurred before the 180-day window.
Past discipline is generally only brought up if the officer is accused of violating the same rule within two years of when the punishment was assessed, however, there are a few exceptions. Prior history can be used as evidence if the allegations include “violence, substance abuse and incompetence,” according to the collective bargaining agreement.
Limited civilian oversight
The collective bargaining agreement establishes a Chief’s Advisory Action Board, which includes a deputy chief, a captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant, a detective and two patrol officers.
It also establishes the Citizen Advisory Action Board, comprised of civilians picked from a list of names provided by the city manager. Both boards oversee complaints against police.
However, the boards’ recommendations on discipline are “advisory only” and non-binding.
Further, the citizen board “may not conduct a separate independent investigation” into a complaint. It can only recommend further investigation.
Costs for the city
Another feature of many union contracts that some studies and activists consider problematic is the city being on the hook to pay for certain costs following an officer’s alleged misconduct.